The Omega Ultra Deep Family. Photograph courtesy of Omega.
The Omega Seamaster has become on the world’s iconic dive watches, gracing the wrists of everyone from Joe Biden to James Bond. But when it first came into the world 75 years ago, it was a civilian take on a military watch which, although offering exceptional water-resistance, was not intended as a serious dive watch. That emphasis was soon to change. In 1955, a diver named Gordon McLean wore a Seamaster while breaking the world record for the deepest dive at the time, reaching a depth of 62.5 metres off the coast of Australia.
“Gordon McLean showed just how superior that technology was,” says Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. “By the 1950s, scuba diving had opened a world of discovery under the ocean. Pleasure seekers, scientists and even the military were yearning to dive deeper and watch companies responded by producing watches that could handle the ever-increasing pressures.”
The Seamaster kept pace with this evolution. In 1957, the Seamaster 300 arrived that Aeschlimann describes as being “designed for serious ocean explorers”. Next up was the Seamaster Ploprof, a dive watch with an outlandish looking case milled from a single piece of steel that was capable of surviving depths of 1370 metres.
Then in 2019 came a true monster of the deep. The Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep Professional was designed in 2019 to help adventurer Victor Vescovo take his submersible to the bottom of the Mariana Trench – the deepest place in the world. The Ultra Deep set a new world depth record by plunging to 10,928m. “We test our watches and ourselves to the limits,” Aeschlimann explains. “What can we achieve, how can we improve, how deep can we go? This drive will never cease. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA.”
This year, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Seamaster, Omega unveiled 11 new commemorative models from the family’s line ranging from the Planet Ocean to the Ultra Deep. The uniting theme was a new colour the brand refer to as “summer blue” with the precise shade getting progressively darker according to each watch’s level of water resistance.
The Ultra Deep Summer Blue is the deepest diver of the new family with a dial that’s almost midnight-blue. But that dark backdrop is enlivened by an intriguing textural pattern that relates back to Vescovo’s record-breaking voyage. It’s an representation of the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the Mariana Trench (and indeed the planet) as mapped by the Five Deeps team using almost one million sonar points. As befits a diving watch of such hardcore capabilities, the lacquered finish offers a palpable sense of depth as well as a sense of humour. Shining a UV light on the dial reveals the words: “OMEGA WAS HERE” referring to the brand accompanying Vescovo on his world record dive. The Ultra Deep Summer Blue doesn’t go quite as far, but it’s still a very serious dive watch that’s water-resistant to 6000m.
It’s also far more wearable. The original concept watch that travelled with Vescovo was a humungous chunk of titanium measuring 55mm across and some 28mm thick. The Ultra Deep Summer Blue is relatively dainty in comparison to the original – albeit sizable by most other standards. Measuring 45.5mm wide and 18.12mm thick, it’s made of the brand’s own steel alloy called O-MEGASTEEL, which they claim is 40 per cent stronger than normal steel while offering a whiter colour and greater lustre.
Under the hood, the watch is powered by Omega’s 8912 Co-axial Master Chronometer calibre. It’s certified by METAS, the Federal Institute of Metrology, which in 2015 established a test to set a new standard for watches in terms of their timing precision, accuracy and anti-magnetism. In short, it’s a watch that won’t let you down whether or not you’re at some eardrum-shattering depth beneath the waves.
The current world record scuba dive stands at a mere 332m. That means no mortal is realistically ever likely to test the Ultra Deep to its extraordinary limits. So what’s the point in making a watch with such a mind-bending depth rating?
“This 6000m water-resistant watch was for us, once again, one of these Omega moments where we celebrate what we can do,” Aeschlimann says. “And, yes, we also bring more than would be expected, because we are like that. You know that you’re never going to go to 6000m. But you also know that this brand has invested, researched and developed a watch that could do that.”
The message here is clear. This watch is less about practicalities than it is about Omega flexing their technical might and pioneering values. The Ultra Deep might be a hardcore diving watch that is impressive in its own right. But it’s also a symbol of Omega’s horological vision and desire to redefine the limits.
More expert Watches & Jewellery coverage from T Australia:
Planétarium watch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Courtersy of Van Cleef & Arpels.
Haldimann’s H9 Reduction isn’t a watch in the conventional sense, more an exercise in wilful subversion. That’s because, despite costing more than $300,000, it can’t actually be used to tell the time. Inside its solid platinum case, it’s kitted out with a superlative movement that features a triple-barrel flying tourbillon that is painstakingly engraved by hand. Apparently, the dial includes perfectly functional hour and minute hands, too, but we’ll have to take Haldimann’s word for it. You can’t actually see any of this horological workmanship as it’s hidden behind a totally opaque black crystal.
So, what is the H9? Is it still a timepiece if it doesn’t tell the time? Or is it an expensive joke designed for jaded billionaires? Or given that it triggers something of a philosophical thought experiment — a wrist-bound version of the old “If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it” riddle on perception — is it that most controversial thing of all: an actual work of art?
The reason the H9 is so intriguing/infuriating, depending on your point of view, is that watches are supposed to be time-keeping instruments. There’s little doubt that, particularly at the upper end of the spectrum, watches can also be artistic objects that flaunt extraordinary levels of technical dexterity. Take Vacheron Constantin’s Métiers d’Art Villes Lumières series, featuring dials that offer bird’s-eye view miniature tableaus of various world cities by night (Sydney recently joined the list). The dials are made by the Japanese artist Yoko Imai using a technique that combines grand feu champlevé enamelling with a special powder made with particles of gold, pearl, platinum and diamonds to give the enamel its strange radiant power. All this specialised craftsmanship elevates it far beyond your average wristwatch, as its six-figure price tag suggests.
Similarly, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel Hidden Treasures series showcases the brand’s artisanal skills with enamel and miniature painting. Using the Reverso’s swivelling case as a canvas that can reveal or hide itself depending on its position, the collection reproduces three famous paintings that were assumed to have disappeared forever until being rediscovered and authenticated. The works, by Vincent van Gogh, Gustave Courbet and Gustav Klimt, were reproduced on a minuscule surface (about 20 millimetres wide), and this dinky scale forced the enamellers to wear binoculars to paint them. The guillochéd dials were then styled and coloured to match the spirit of each painting.
Even the grumpiest heathen would have to concede that both of these collections exhibit artistic qualities. But they provide such wonders while still carrying out the basic function of a watch. By still telling the time, they retain their inherent sense of utility, however extravagantly packaged. Purported “watches” like the Haldimann H9 Reduction, however, are content to exist in a purely abstract zone.
Then there are those pieces that work in a strange hinterland between the two camps. The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planétarium, for example, refuses to tell the time with any meaningful precision. A golden shooting star revolves around the 24-hour scale that follows the perimeter of the aventurine dial, but it only gives a vague gist of the time. Specifics like the number of minutes passed aren’t on the agenda, because Van Cleef has its eye on a much bigger and altogether more cosmic picture. Inside the rose gold case, it presents a three-dimensional display that tracks the orbit of Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with each tiny planet crafted from a different precious stone. Astronomers may not be able to rely on it for their stargazing intel, but the Midnight Planétarium nevertheless combines its aesthetic charms with a degree of functionality.
Some would argue that watches are no longer about utility anyway. This is, after all, the age of the smartphone, when watches are worn less for their time-telling purpose and more as an expression of an individual’s style, personality and financial status. Fretting about whether a certain piece qualifies as a watch or an artwork is therefore perhaps unnecessary in the current luxury market. If it’s sufficiently magnificent and expensive, it seems, there’ll always be someone willing to strap it onto their wrist.
James Cameron with equipment from his record breaking journey. Photography by Duncan Cole.
Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge is a significant release for multiple reasons, but the real headline-grabber is its record-breaking depth rating. It’s water-resistant to a mind-boggling 11,000 metres, which is about as deep as anyone can go on this planet.
The world’s most remote subaquatic location is, after all, the Mariana Trench, which lurks 11,034 metres below the Pacific Ocean’s waves. To put that into perspective, if you set Mount Everest at the bottom of the trench, the peak would be two kilometres below sea level.
The watch is essentially a civilian adaptation of the prototype that Rolex made for the film director James Cameron’s historic deep-sea adventure. In 2012, the maker of the Avatar movie series completed a solo dive into the Mariana Trench in a submersible and Rolex attached an experimental version of the watch to the outside. A decade later, the Deepsea Challenge is now available to buy.
The main reason the timepiece can survive such terrifying depths is due to Rolex’s patented Ringlock system. This consists of an inner ring made from stainless steel that’s sandwiched between the crystal and the caseback. Designed to reduce stress on the case, it moves pressure away from the crystal at depth and locks it into the ring (hence the name).
Given such hardcore durability, the Deepsea Challenge is not a slinky watch that will slide under the cuff of a dress shirt. It measures a whopping 50 millimetres in diameter and is 23 millimetres thick — of which, the sapphire crystal comprises 9.5 millimetres. This makes it the biggest watch that Rolex has ever made commercially.
These titanic proportions lead to another point of interest: the Deepsea Challenge is also Rolex’s first all-titanium watch. It’s made of Grade 5 titanium, an alloy that includes aluminium and vanadium. This choice of material makes sense given the watch’s hulking size. Titanium is about 40 per cent lighter than steel and prevents the timepiece from becoming a wrist-bound anchor that would drag you towards the ocean floor. Instead, the Deepsea Challenge weighs a surprisingly manageable 251 grams.
Titanium is the logical material to use, and the fact that Rolex has finally conceded this illustrates a broader horological trend. The metal offers manifold benefits to a watchmaker, being lightweight, strong and corrosion-resistant. But the luxury watch world has taken a while to fully embrace it. This hesitancy may stem from a belief that consumers are psychologically attuned to associating weight with quality. Not only do we talk about “light entertainment”, “heavy hitters” and “weighty matters”, psychology researchers from the University of Amsterdam have conducted studies that show how the weight of an object affects our perception of its importance.
Recently, however, the watch sector seems to be shaking off this prejudice. One of the most well received watches of 2022 came from the Rolex stablemate Tudor in the form of the Pelagos 39, another titanium dive watch. Meanwhile, some of the most prestigious brands around — A Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe — have delivered titanium releases in the past year. That Rolex, the world’s biggest watch brand, is ready to join the party is proof of titanium’s acceptance. The watch world, it seems, is finally ready to lighten up.
This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eleventh edition, Page 44 of T Australia with the headline: “Deep And Meaningful”
What’s remarkable about the Cartier Tank is how the design has barely changed since it was first introduced in 1919. Photography courtesy Cartier.
When it comes to classic watches with true cross-generational appeal then it’s hard to go past the Cartier Tank. Just take the multitude of famous wrists that it has adorned over the years. As Andy Warhol proclaimed, “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”
Few will have subscribed to Warhol’s eccentric refusal to wind his watch, but plenty of others have shared his taste for horological design. Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Muhammad Ali all wore a Cartier Tank, as did the writer Truman Capote who, in a famous exchange, tried to give one away to a journalist after objecting to his interviewer’s unsightly timepiece. “Take that ugly watch off your wrist, and put on that one,” Capote reputedly said, offering the Tank off his own wrist. When the journalist was embarrassed by the generosity of the gesture, Capote shrugged it off, “I beg you, keep it, I have at least seven at home.”
But while all sorts of legendary men have been seduced by the linear angularity of this square-faced watch, the appeal of the Cartier Tank is arguably even greater among women. Greta Garbo, Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Michelle Obama, and Gisele Bündchen all joined the Tank brigade, as did Lady Diana, whose watch has subsequently been inherited by Meghan Markle.
What’s remarkable about the Cartier Tank is how the design has barely changed since it was first introduced in 1919. Louis Cartier’s design was purportedly inspired by the stocky French tank, the Renault FT. The watch evoked a bird’s eye view of the vehicle, with the central case and dial resembling the body and cockpit, and the strong, elongated brancards (the vertical bars on the sides of the case) reflecting the tank tracks. More than 100 years on, the evolution has proved gradual with subtle tweaks and considered adaptations to the watch’s iconic form.
The watch has been elongated and slimmed down on a Tank Américaine, and solar-powered and fitted with a vegan strap on the SolarBeat. But in 1996, the Tank was offered with a sportier alternative to its trusty leather strap in the form of the Tank Française’s metal bracelet. And it’s this specific offshoot that has just received a fresh upgrade in the form of a line-up of seven new pieces.
Design-wise, the changes are fairly subtle, but serve to make the watch more modern and refined. The brancards on the new Tank Française become more prominent, but this effect is offset by the sapphire crown being inlaid to keep the elegance of the overall appearance. The case sizes are all a tad larger than the previous iterations, but the finishes on both the cases and bracelets are now largely brushed rather than the polished surfaces of before.
The new range features small (21.1mm) and medium sizes (27.2mm) in gold, while you also have a bolder option with diamond-studded brancards as well. The steel version offers both these sizes as well as a larger case (30.6mm). All the watches are powered by a quartz movement, except for the large steel-cased one that features an automatic movement with a date window at three o’clock.
Overall, these little changes combine to make a watch that feels sleeker and more contemporary. Exactly the sort of changes, in other words, that look sure to maintain the Tank’s enduring popularity for the next 100 years at least.
The new Cartier Tank Française is available now with prices ranging from $5250 for the Tank Française Small in steel to A$46,300 for the Tank Française Medium in 18k yellow gold with diamonds.
Ahead of the quarter finals, it’s already been an amazing football World Cup on the pitch. The group stages were electrified with shock results and epic comebacks, while the round of 16 enjoyed an avalanche of 25 goals in six games. Off the pitch meanwhile, it’s proved to be the most wildly contentious World Cup of all time due, in part, to the unavoidable spectre of Qatar’s human rights record, and the dismal vacillation of FIFA over whether team captains could wear LGBTQ+ armbands to protest against the illegality of homosexuality in the host nation. Yet football and politics aside, one undeniable winner has emerged from the Qatar World Cup, in the shape of the tournament’s official timekeeper, Hublot.
The Swiss watch brand started its relationship with the World Cup back in South Africa (2010), subsequently following up with a similar role at Brazil (2014), Russia (2018) and now Qatar. It was a bold move for Hublot to jump into football. Most luxury watch brands prefer to align with “premium sports” to reflect their high-end status – think golf, tennis, Formula One, sailing and anything involving horses. Yet no brand had made a serious move into football – the biggest spectator sport of them all. Asked why “the world game” had been overlooked by top watch brands in this way, Hublot’s managing director Ricardo Guadalupe gave a blunt reply. “They feared that it’s too cheap, that it’s not luxurious enough,” he said.
But while some watch brands sniffily deigned football to be too mass-market and redolent of the hoi polloi, Hublot had the vision to see things differently. The brand were looking for a sport, Mr Guadalupe explains, “to drive brand awareness, to make Hublot better known”. They recognised that football had the power to reach a colossal worldwide audience.
And so it proved. Some 3.57 billion – more than half of the global population aged four and over – caught a game on TV during the last World Cup. In the process, they were also exposed to Hublot. For throughout every match, the brand lurks in the viewers’ peripheral vision. The digital boards held by the match officials to signal extra time and player substitutions are not only emblazoned with the Hublot brand name, they’re also designed to physically resemble the distinctive case shape of their most famous model, the Big Bang.
Aided by their sponsorship of the game’s superstars including France’s Kylian Mbappé and the late Diego Maradona, football helped to supercharge Hublot’s brand awareness. During the 2018 World Cup, Chrono24 – the world’s biggest trading platform for pre-owned watches – tracked their site traffic for Hublot during several key games. “The numbers don’t lie,” the online retailer said in a statement. “Every time a player is substituted, the world can see the official’s substitution board and Hublot’s page views rise immediately and significantly.”
When I saw Mr Guadalupe in Qatar at the Hublot Villa – a palatial beachfront home with a magnificent pool with the brand’s name tiled on the bottom – he confirmed that Hublot’s online retail is enjoying a similar boom during the World Cup. “We see an increase,” he said with a smile.
The last time I’d seen Mr Guadalupe back in March at the Watches & Wonder fair in Geneva, he admitted some remained sceptical about Hublot’s footballing game-plan. Despite football’s mind-boggling audience, there were those within the industry that believed these spectators are hardly the target market for the brand’s watches that start at $10,000 and can literally go into the millions. “People think that football is a popular sport and it’s true – billions watch it,” he said. “People think they [the viewers] will not be able to buy a Hublot watch because it’s far too expensive. But within these people, there are also our consumers.”
Yet the Qatar World Cup has contrived to align these footballing spectators with Hublot’s customer base more closely than ever before. This, after all, is the most expensive tournament to attend of all time. A study by Keller Sports found that match tickets cost nearly 40% more than at the 2018 World Cup. Then there are the prohibitive costs facing any fan travelling to Doha where a pint of beer costs more than $20 and travel and accommodation costs are also sky-high. As a result, the typical football supporter has been priced out in favour of a more moneyed type of fan.
This, of course, is all down to the dubious wisdom of FIFA, yet Hublot have inadvertently reaped the rewards. The high cost of entry to this World Cup means Doha is full of cashed-up fans and Hublot sales in the host city have consequently rocketed.
“Absolutely,” says Mr Guadalupe when I ask him if the World Cup’s controversial location this year has boosted sales. “This year is even more focused on our potential audience. We have a Hublot boutique in the airport and we have two in Doha and the sales compared to last year are four to five times more than they were last month.”
As a football tournament, Qatar 2022 will always be remembered with the requisite ethical asterisks. But for anyone connected, it continues to prove a memorable World Cup in multiple ways.
“Classic with a twist” is an overused expression in the fashion world. But its ubiquity stems from the underlying reasons why its formula is such a success. Most people don’t want to buy anything too outlandish, but nor do they want a cookie-cutter design than makes them look like everyone else. “Classic with a twist” is basically the everyman garment enlivened with a hint of personality. It’s the sober blazer with the flamboyant lining, the tweed pattern where one colour is emboldened in a brighter hue.
The expression is fitting for this watch as long as you accept the fact that “classic” rather undersells things when it comes to the Omega Speedmaster. In the 1960s when NASA were looking for a watch fit for the world’s first astronauts, they bought a range of chronographs from different brands in a bid to find the most reliable. These watches were subjected to the most rigorous trials in the history of horology. The only watch to pass was the Speedmaster and, in 1969, it consequently became the first watch to make it onto the Moon.
That Moonwatch was based on a 1957 piece – the Speedmaster CK2915-1 – which today is sufficiently rare that one sold at a Geneva Auction last for $3.4 million USD. Omega have created new tributes of that watch before, but the Speedmaster ’57 is the latest remix.
Colour is the most conspicuous update for the new Speedmaster ’57 with the black dial of the original perked up with burgundy, blue and green configurations. The rich burgundy is far more accessible than it might initially seem as its textured surface has a matte quality that doesn’t reflect the light. The blue and green options play in a more desaturated zone but balance their muted tones with a brushed sunburst quality. Should you prefer your classic less twisted, well, then there is also a black dial version as well.
The aesthetic configuration of the dial largely conforms to the dual-register layout of the 2013 model, albeit with slightly different hands. But on the wrist, what’s notable is that 40.5mm diameter case has been slimmed right down, making it 3mm thinner than the previous model.
This all stems from the movement that is now just 6.4mm thick. But as this is Omega, the performance isn’t compromised by this skimpier build. The watch is powered by the Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 9906, a manually wound movement with a 60 power reserve. Like all Omega watches, the Speedmaster ’57 boasts METAS certification to ensure timing precision and accuracy as well as resistance to magnetism. But you don’t need to be a watch nerd to appreciate what this means for the watch. The thinner movement enables the slinkier case and makes the watch more wearable than ever before. It also feels a touch more elegant, an effect compounded by the tapered design of the flat-link bracelet – though you can also go for a leather strap that’s coloured to match your choice of dial.
If you don’t have a spare $3 million to bid for the next Speedmaster CK2915-1 at auction, there’s a lot to like about this chronograph. Visually, aside from the colourful dial options, it’s got enough retro cues to appeal to lovers of vintage, while also being internally propelled by the latest horological tech. The Speedmaster may have made it to the moon and back, but it looks like it’s not done yet.